by BD Mitchell
A wizard's reprimand, a mysterious tip, and a new apprentice.
(From my WIP novel, "The Lorelei Chronicles: A Wilder God"))
"So," she muttered, her fierce gaze burning a hole in my granite counter-top. "You say you... banished her."
I said nothing, giving my best So what? expression.
"Do you have any idea how incompetent this makes us look?"
I narrowly resisted the urge to snort. Of the many words you could use to describe Michael Reeve, "incompetent" would be the quickest way to eat some teeth.
"You were given explicit instructions, Reeve," Moira continued, still only seconds from lighting my counter on fire. "You were told to bind the hone-onna. Capture her, detain her, disable her. You were explicitly forbidden -- explicitly forbidden -- to vaporize her! Do you have the slightest comprehension of the shitstorm you brought down on us? On me?"
I shrugged. "It was self-defense," I said idly. "She had serious intentions of clawing my eyes out."
"I don't care if she wanted to open you up and wear you like a parka! Your job was to catch her so we could deport her. And we can't deport an atomized demon!"
"She preyed on humans. Now she can't. Problem solved. I don't see what the issue is."
"Then you're a fucking idiot." Moira was pacing around the dining table by now. I could practically see the steam shooting out of both ears. "The Japanese are very particular about how these things are done. A demon must be bound and vanquished by a traditional temple priest. We -- I mean, you just executed one of their demons... in a bus station broom closet, no less. Our counterparts in Izumo are not happy about this."
"A dead demon is a dead demon. Makes no difference to me."
"No difference to you, maybe, but it means something to me! Lately it seems like every job I send you on results in a new level of hell for me. I send you to capture a runaway foreign demon, and you vaporize her. I send you to find an imp colony, and you somehow misplace the entire hive in a reporter's car. I send you to investigate a routine haunting, and you burn down a house! Do you have any idea what kind of paperwork that entails? Or how much of my time is devoted to damage control? Just what goes on in that thick skull of yours?"
"You seem a little emotional. I think you're letting me get to you."
Moira's enraged wandering brought her back to the counter. She slowly reached into the ceramic fruit bowl.
"Then allow me to clarify things. Pretend this is you, and this is my current emotional state."
She held up a banana and a slightly mushy pear -- me and her emotions, respectively. With the swift fury of a monkey bashing open a coconut, she slammed the pear into the banana a dozen times. With a satisfied shriek, she flung the whole pulpy mess across the kitchen. I dodged, narrowly avoiding a shapeless blob of pureed fruit that hit the wall with a dull splat. The unfortunate victims of Moira's wrath slid down and landed in an amorphous heap in the sink. With a calculated sip of tea, I turned back to Moira.
"Would you mind repeating that?"
"So what gives? You don't wanna know why I'm here?"
"I assumed it was for another free meal," I grunted, lobbing a fistful of ink-stained rice paper into the waste bin.
With a strained effort befitting a rodent of his girth, Rat clambered onto a bookshelf overlooking my desk. He paused to check his teeth in the polished surface of a copper talisman before sitting back and watching me through one cocked eye.
"The hell are you looking at?" I said at last.
"Nothin'," Rat said with a lazy blink. "I'm just decidin' if I wanna tell you what's up."
I jotted down some final notes before stacking some library books.
"Well, don't let me interrupt you," I grumbled.
"Big stuff happenin'," the squirrel continued, ignoring me. "Yep, biiig stuff. Somethin's going down...."
I leaned back and pinched the bridge of my nose. You know, the kind of gesture you make when you're a few seconds away from murdering someone....
"Fine," I sighed. "Out with it."
"Atta boy, Reevsie!"
Rat flopped onto his stomach, his black eyes glittering. It was like watching a teenage girl on the verge of unleashing some epic gossip.
"Yeah, get this: there's somethin' new in Lorelei."
"New? You mean the big shiny statue in Ladon Park?"
"No no," Rat said, waving a paw impatiently. "Somethin' else. No one knows what it is, but everyone knows it's here. There's a presence, they say. Lurkin' in the shadows. It never shows itself, but they know it's watchin' them."
A fleeting flashback of last night whisked through my mind. I knew I was being watched, but I had no clue what it was. Just the itching sensation that something... eerie was nearby.
"And no one's seen it?"
Rat shook his head. "Cedar Cleary swears he saw a pair of eyes. Green and glowin' eyes, he says, like they were full of poisoned flames."
I frowned. "Doesn't sound like anything I know of. 'Course, Cedar's not exactly a credible witness. Especially when he's had a few."
"How didja know he was drunk?"
"Lucky guess, I'm sure."
"So what's next?" Rat asked eagerly. "We gonna set traps? Or conjure some kind of massive mystical tracking thingy? Or somethin'?"
"What's this 'we' stuff? You don't get to tag along. Ever. And for good reason, too."
"Besides," I interrupted. "There's really nothing I can do. An indescribable feeling isn't much to go on. I don't even know if I'm looking for something real or just following some amateur punk who learned his first shadow glamour."
The ride to the suburb of Rening gave me some time to analyze my new protege in silence.
I stuck to my first estimate of early twenties. She was thin, bordering on that hapless gangling fashion so common with the young. Her hair was sunny blonde, with several obnoxious black streaks reaching down to her shoulders.
Her clothing seemed to be simultaneously very old and very new. The heavy boots, for example, were black leather and faded in several places, but not in the natural pattern of everyday use. It was as if the makers knew boots ought to be scuffed and worn out, but they had to guess how it was actually supposed to look. Her jacket -- an oversized thing of pale green canvas -- also showed signs of inaccurate aging. Kids today and their... pre-faded jeans and such. As if buying new old clothes was somehow trendy. Well, I never understood it.
After considering for another moment, I confessed that she was actually quite pretty, in a skinny sort of way. There was something regal about the jawline, even through the scowl. And even while narrowed, there was something intent in the back of those crystal blue eyes. This was clearly a person who wanted something, but had been kicked down all to often.
She might be a cheeky chatterbox, but just who's supposed to play the encouraging mentor in this scenario?
Oh, what good is pride anyway....
"So... where are you from, Cat?"
She didn't even twitch. Her glare remained firmly fixed out the taxi window.
"Any family? Or... close pets?"
"I thought you didn't want to make conversation, Mr. Reeve," she muttered, still watching snow-covered houses drift past the glass.
Okay, I might've deserved that. But any self-respecting gentleman knows when to apologize.
And so do I.
"Look," I said, aiming for something between confident and contrite. "I know I sounded like a jackass back there, but I work at my own pace. That's how it's been for a long time. And I can't imagine why anyone thinks this... arrangement... is going to benefit anybody. But here we are, and I think it would help if I learned a little about you. So where are you from?"
I can look back now and see how weak this defense really sounded. And apparently Cat agreed with me; her jaw tightened even more and she resumed her silent observation of the passing buildings with fierce determination.
Oh yeah, this is going great.